By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – According to The American Lung Association, the Denver metro area has some of the highest pollution levels in the country. Some Colorado lawmakers want to change that by increasing the punishments to frequent polluters for their violations.

It all starts with a new bill that was in the House Energy and Environment Committee on Monday. Just before that, co-sponsors Rep. Dominique Jackson, Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, and Sen. Faith Winter also held a rally to share their enthusiasm for the bill.

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“We are all here with one common goal in mind. It is called environmental justice,” said Rep. Jackson.

The trio said the goal is to give people in heavily polluted areas a voice and some power.  It would more than triple the maximum fine for air and water violations, matching the federal punishment.

Currently, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment can fine a company, found committing a violation, a maximum of $10,000 per day for water violations and $15,000 for air violations. The bill would raise the state maximum to $47,357 per day for both types of violations.

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All fine money would go into a newly-created community impact cash fund.

“I would think that that amount of monetary damages might give one pause to double check their systems and their operations,” said Rep. Jackson.

The bill wouldn’t stop there. It would also create an environmental justice advisory board and environmental justice ombudsperson position to choose environmental mitigation projects. According to Rep. Jackson, at least three board members would be from heavily affected communities.

The projects would be paid for using money from the community impact cash fund. Currently, money from violations only goes into the State’s general fund and can’t be used for mitigation.

“Who better to decide how to mitigate harm done by polluters than members of the very community that was harmed?” asked Rep. Jackson.

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Among the state officials, health professionals and concerned community members testifying at Monday’s committee hearing was Yesica Chavez. The Montbello native, who supports the bill, is concerned about long-term health effects related to pollution in low income and primarily black and Latinx communities.

“A lot of people feel like their voice isn’t being heard, and when you hold those corporations and companies accountable, they’ll then feel more in control and more powerful,” Chavez said. “Once the corporations have the accountability, then the people have the power.”

The bill motion passed on a vote of 7-4. According to the Colorado General Assembly’s website, it’s now headed to the Committee on Finance.

Conor McCue

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